Bioethics Blogs

When Ideology Trumps Reason, Do The Life Sciences Resist or Capitulate?

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

The world of the life sciences and medicine is being changed radically in 2017. The proposed Trump budget cuts funding for the CDC, NIH, NSF, NEH, NEA, EPA, and PHS will radically change how science is done, how much science is done and by whom. The US is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Treaty. Cuts to social security that traditionally pays for medical residents have also been proposed. The American Health Care Act will take affordable health insurance away from 23 million people. For the rest of us, the AHCA means higher premiums and less coverage. At the same time, we live in an era of “fake news,” “leaks,” incendiary tweets, and loyalty as the sign of someone’s worth. What might be the impact on medicine, the life sciences and bioethics in the Trumpian era? Will the dominant political ideology affect the practice of science and medicine in more ways than economics? Can ethics help steer a course around ideology?

One change that has already occurred under Trump is an anecdotal decrease in the number of immigrants (documented and undocumented) who are seeking medical care under concern that they will be deported if they show up to hospitals and doctor’s offices. In one case, a woman was forcibly removed the hospital where she was to be treated for a brain tumor and brought to a detention center.

Certainly, there is a U.S. history of medicine following the ideology of the government. Forced sterilization, the Tuskegee Syphilis study, the US radiation experiments and the Guatemala Syphilis studies were all government financed research created to prove a particular ideology: In these cases, species-level differences between the races and that a nuclear war was “winnable.” Even today, medicine can be co-opted by politics: Consider that evolution is now taught as questionable hypothesis in many states rather than as proven by science.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.